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Profiles in EconomicsAdam Smith (1723–1790) • introduced the idea that the division of labor led to the great prosperity of Britain • defined the wealth of a nation as the sum of the goods produced by its peopleDivision of Labor Adam Smith did not set out to become an economist. In fact, he focused on philosophy when, at age 14, he earned a scholarship to attend Glasgow University. Travels throughout Europe and talks with notable thinkers helped Smith turn his attention to economics. In 1776 he published his most influential book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in which he observed that labor becomes more productive as each worker becomes more skilled at a single job. This made him the first to introduce and recognize the importance of the “division of labor.”Invisible Hand Smith’s most important contribution was the notion that competition and individual self-interest would somehow act as an “invisible hand” to guide resources to their most productive uses. He suggested that the role of government should be limited to enforcing contracts, granting patents and copyrights to encourage inventions and new ideas, and providing public works, such as roads and bridgesWealth of Nations Smith also put forth the new idea that the “wealth of nations” should be defined as the sum of the goods produced by labor, not the personal financial wealth of those who owned them. Competition in markets, along with the division of labor and the invisible hand, would lead to increased productivity and output. Smith’s doctrine of laissez-faire (French for “let it be”) marked the beginning of modern economic thought, and it still serves as the basis of our free market economyQuestion 1. Summarizing Ideas What ideas did Adam Smith contribute to economic thought? 2. Synthesizing Explain how Smith’s ideas are evident in the workings of the American economy.
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